Shuttle Memorabilia: Completing The Collection

  • Hide caption
    Various autographs from space shuttle-era astronauts, including Bob Crippen, the shuttle's first pilot, and Dan Brandenstein, the commander of shuttle Endeavour's maiden mission. Three hundred fifty-five astronauts from 16 nations flew on the space shuttle.
    All photos courtesy of collectSPACE.com/collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Two space shuttle models built from the popular Lego brick sets. The Denmark-based company released 10 different space shuttle-themed sets over the course of the 30 years of the shuttle program, but only one featured the NASA logo. These two represent the same models flown to space on the shuttle during the final missions.
    collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Collectible envelopes postmarked for the first space shuttle launch in 1981 and the recent last flights of shuttles Discovery and Endeavour. These philatelic "covers" were created for all 135 shuttle missions. They're popular items for crews to autograph.
    collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Hasbro's G.I. Joe action figure styled after first shuttle pilot Crippen. Toys and other products that crossover into pop culture are popular not just with space memorabilia collectors but with others, such as those who collect Americana.
    collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Only astronauts could purchase these medallions (which collectors refer to by the name of the company that minted them). Minted in low number in both gold and silver, some flew aboard the missions they commemorate. Pictured clockwise from top: Robbins medals for missions STS-116, STS-1, STS-121, STS-95 and STS-115.
    collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Examples of commercial reproductions of space shuttle heat shield tiles alongside a real tile (top right) that was never used. Parts of the space shuttle, or replicas thereof, attract space memorabilia collectors for their rarity and authenticity.
    collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Early space shuttle toys dating to the beginning of the program, including a 1979 space shuttle Enterprise toy and a BuddyL replica of space shuttle Discovery. Enterprise toys in particular capture a future that never was (Enterprise never flew in space but was used only as a prototype for atmospheric approach and landing tests).
    collectSPACE.com
  • Hide caption
    Memorabilia related to the two space shuttle tragedies: Challenger's STS-51L mission in 1986 and Columbia's STS-107 mission in 2003. Many people saved items from these flights to have a tangible memory of the fallen astronauts and the lost orbiters.
    collectSPACE.com

1 of 8

View slideshow i
Every space shuttle mission had its own mission emblem, designed and worn by the crews. Centered in this photo are the embroidered patches for the first and last missions, STS-1 and STS-135. The STS-1 emblem is a rare version, produced only for the astronauts and NASA employees. The souvenir edition was slightly different. i i

Every space shuttle mission had its own mission emblem, designed and worn by the crews. Centered in this photo are the embroidered patches for the first and last missions, STS-1 and STS-135. The STS-1 emblem is a rare version, produced only for the astronauts and NASA employees. The souvenir edition was slightly different. collectSPACE.com hide caption

itoggle caption collectSPACE.com
Every space shuttle mission had its own mission emblem, designed and worn by the crews. Centered in this photo are the embroidered patches for the first and last missions, STS-1 and STS-135. The STS-1 emblem is a rare version, produced only for the astronauts and NASA employees. The souvenir edition was slightly different.

Every space shuttle mission had its own mission emblem, designed and worn by the crews. Centered in this photo are the embroidered patches for the first and last missions, STS-1 and STS-135. The STS-1 emblem is a rare version, produced only for the astronauts and NASA employees. The souvenir edition was slightly different.

collectSPACE.com

The final launch of Atlantis and the end of the space shuttle program have created an increased interest in space memorabilia, especially for artifacts from the shuttle era.

No one knows this better than Robert Pearlman, the founder of the website collectSPACE.com, which is considered the online source for space history and artifacts.

"Collectors like to collect in sets and, up till now, the space shuttle's been an open-ended program," Pearlman tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. "So collectors sort of stayed wary about getting involved with it. Now there are complete sets. You have 135 missions and 355 astronauts who flew on the space shuttle, and so you know what you need to collect and you can create that checklist to go after."

Topping the list of collectibles are items that have flown on the space shuttle, like flags and mission patches, as well as parts of the shuttle, like the heat shield tiles or parts of the thermal blankets. Pieces of popular culture have also made their way onto shuttle flights, including Luke Skywalker's light saber and a 12-inch-tall Buzz Lightyear action figure. And astronauts have sometimes taken personal items up with them. Among the more unusual items: a chunk of Mount Everest.

When asked what's in his own collection, Pearlman describes one of his weirder pieces: a UCD, or urine collection device. It's the undergarment that the astronauts wear during launch. Pearlman's UCD is, thankfully, unused. But why would anyone want it in his collection?

One of 10,000 4-inch-by-6-inch American flags flown on STS-1, the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981. Similar flags flew on every space shuttle mission; they were presented post-flight to space program workers and VIPs. i i

One of 10,000 4-inch-by-6-inch American flags flown on STS-1, the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981. Similar flags flew on every space shuttle mission; they were presented post-flight to space program workers and VIPs. collectSPACE.com hide caption

itoggle caption collectSPACE.com
One of 10,000 4-inch-by-6-inch American flags flown on STS-1, the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981. Similar flags flew on every space shuttle mission; they were presented post-flight to space program workers and VIPs.

One of 10,000 4-inch-by-6-inch American flags flown on STS-1, the first flight of the space shuttle in 1981. Similar flags flew on every space shuttle mission; they were presented post-flight to space program workers and VIPs.

collectSPACE.com

"We want to relate to what it's like to live in space," says Pearlman. "So if we can find something that relates to our own lives — something that we have done ourselves but maybe in a different way — then I think it's something that's pursued by collectors. It's something you can understand without having a long explanation given."

Memorabilia items range in value; age plays a factor in determining price. Something that flew on one of the Apollo missions is worth at least four figures. Items from the shuttle program have been rising in price.

"About five years ago, you could buy an American flag that flew on the first space shuttle mission — of which there were 10,000 onboard — for about $500," explains Pearlman. "Today, you're lucky if you can find it for less than $1,000."

Above all, though, the items have to be lawfully obtained. Collectors need to make sure that they can trace the chain of ownership to show that an artifact was released by the government through the correct channels.

"NASA and the Office of the Inspector General do not care how much it sells for on the market," says Pearlman. "If it's their property, they're going to come try to get it."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.